Tag Archives: Growing

Oceanside Unified School District Gets Into Greenhouse Growing

Students in Agra Tech Solar Light 24 greenhouse

Director of Community Engagement and Innovation Vicki Gravlin works for the Oceanside Unified School District that oversees 23 schools. She is in her 27th year as a teacher and administrator and a former principal of Palmquist Elementary.

Gravlin has played a pivotal role in getting the school its greenhouse and having it up and running, as well as developing the curriculum surrounding it. We recently interviewed Vicki about this long-term project, its mission and how Agra Tech helped the district to make it all happen.

Q: How did this greenhouse project start?

A: Before I arrived, the previous principal at Palmquist Elementary was Phyllis Morgan, and she was very interested in STEM Education (STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach) as well as sustainable food sources and that’s when she made the connection with Pierre Sleiman at Go Green Agriculture in Encinitas, CA. They started discussing the idea of what it would be like to have a student-run greenhouse. When I became the principal, Palmquist already had a half-acre in-ground farm and it was in disarray and needed some love. So, we updated the in-ground farming component and started researching about having our own greenhouse on-site and it kind of went from there. Since last fall, the greenhouse has been up and running at Palmquist and so many great things have happened since then.

Agra Tech Solar Light 24 greenhouse under consruction

Q: You had a lot of people helping you with this greenhouse project, correct?

A: Absolutely. Pierre at Go Green guided us through the process initially, to figure out the specs of the greenhouse and determining all of the additional equipment we were going to need. He has mentored us through the entire process and has been amazing.

Then, we began working with Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech and he was super and incredibly helpful throughout the entire process. He made sure to let us know what we were getting involved in (laughs) and indeed we have gone through some trials and tribulations along the way. But by accessing the knowledge and experience of Agra Tech and Jim Bergantz, we were able to avoid obstacles and problems that we may have encountered otherwise.

Q: Tell us about the structure itself and what types of crops are you growing?

A: The structure is 24 ft. by 48 ft. with 16 hydroponic tables that are all currently in use. The students are always looking for their own ways to configure hydroponic systems. They work in close conjunction with our resident farmer/teacher Mark Wagner, who organizes and operates the programs on three different school sites. The grades that are involved in these programs are predominantly third through fifth, although all of the children have access to both the greenhouse and our in-ground farms.

The students grow primarily leafy greens, including kale, spinach, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce and other things such as strawberries. They do all of the work from monitoring the Ph levels of the water to all of the seeding and they touch literally every aspect of the growing process. We teach them how to get the produce out to the community, so they learn that aspect as well.

Q: Do you think the students will start eating healthier through their exposure to this on-site greenhouse and in-ground farming?

A: I think so, because we have already seen it. One day, several students were leaving the farm with a big head of red cabbage and they were eating it like candy. I walked by and they said, Mrs. Gravlin, do you want some, this cabbage is so good! Their hands were all red and they were munching away. So, we have learned that if they grow it, they will eat it. One parent said to me that my child would never eat these things at home, but if he grows them himself in the greenhouse, he will. Mr. Wagner did a food demonstration one day and made kale chips and the kids went crazy over them!

Q: How do you fund the programs?

A: Our produce is sold locally to restaurants and that’s how we maintain the program and keep the business going. Some of the restaurants come to us, but in many cases Mr. Wagner delivers it to their locations. The money we get is all funneled back into the greenhouse to buy equipment and supplies and it also helps out other two in-ground farms with the funds.

Q: What are the main benefits of your greenhouse to your school and your students?

A: It shows the students how food production works from seed to sales, empowers them to grow their own and helps them to understand about the nutritional value of the food they grow.

Finished Crop in Agra Tech Solar Light greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article by Ed Attanasio

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AB Ludvig Svennson’s Climate Screens Give Greenhouse Growers More Control

12 proBy working with one of the world’s leading manufacturers of textile climate and environmental solutions, Agra Tech , Inc. of Pittsburg, CA is able to provide its clients with the ability to control their greenhouse growing applications, regardless of where they’re located or what they’re growing. A fourth generation family business run by siblings Anne and Anders Ludvigson, AB Ludvig Svennson (LS) provides a wide range of Climate Screens that are used to control the climates in greenhouses all over the world.

With headquarters in Kinna, Sweden and with daughter companies located in China, Holland, South Korea and the United States, LS makes energy fabrics that achieve the entire gamut of climate control, including reflecting the sun, blacking it out and diffusing its light evenly, just to name a few. By refining and further developing its Climate Screens over the years, LS has been able to provide more efficient shading properties, greater energy savings and thereby creating a more favorable growing climate for greenhouse growers.

Mauricio Manotas is the President of LS in the U.S. He has been spearheading his company’s operations in North America since the company came to this country in 1996. Manotas has been able to see the Climate Screens industry change rapidly as the technology has progressed. “It’s exciting to be working with some of the country’s leading greenhouse growers at LS,” Mantas said. “On the East Coast, there is more vegetable production and in the West, we’re selling more Climate Screens to companies that are doing research and development and growing flowers, for example. Our products allow our customers to control every aspect of the climate in their greenhouse and that’s why they can guarantee quality crops year round.”

LS features five different Climate Screens. Each has its own distinct purpose, depending on what you’re growing and where you’re located. To suit different growing conditions, the company’s Climate Screens come in more than 100 different variants. They are divided into five families according to their main features, which makes the selection process easier and more accurate.

The main five types of Climate Screens made by LS are

Harmony: Scatters sunlight evenly

Luxous: Provides maximum daylight

Obscura: Total blackout

Solara: Highly reflective/open for ventilation

Tempa: Uses aluminum strips to maximize energy savings

Manotas has been working with Agra Tech, Inc. since day one and appreciates the relationship. “We’ve developed a great relationship with John and Eloise Pound at Agra Tech and I know they were working with LS long before I came onboard. We’re a family business too, so ATI has a special place in our hearts. We’ve worked with them on a lot of projects over the years and we really respect their knowledge and experience. They’re a valuable distributor of our products and we’re proud to be working with them.”

LS just doesn’t sell its Climate Screens—they also bring a ton of their expertise to the table as well, according to Manota. LS and Manota are adept at working with greenhouse growers of all sizes—from 100-200 square feet all the way to enormous 40-acre greenhouses.

“Everything is custom made, so we work project-to-project. Each scenario is completely different, so you can’t ever take a ‘one size fits’ all approach,” he explained. “We analyze every scenario carefully and then we advise our customers about what they require. In many cases, the grower doesn’t know what they need, so we weigh all of the factors—the geography, the kinds of crops to grow and the type of greenhouse they’re using. We study their operation and look at it objectively. That way we come up with a blueprint in the form of a 6-7 page document that makes recommendations and offers them what we feel in an ideal solution. There is competition in this business, so we use our knowledge and experience to differentiate us from the rest. We want all of our ‘climate partners’ to maximize their yield and get the best crops they can, so that’s what we do in each situation. By setting our customers up for success, we hope that they will work for us on an ongoing basis, as they grow and experience continuing success.”

Let’s Meet Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz, Sales Engineer

JWB_pic

Jim Bergantz working on a new project.

 

Q: Jim, please tell us about your background when it relates to farming, agriculture and greenhouse farming?

JB: “I literally grew up in a greenhouse and purchased my parents’ retail nursery and wholesale/retail growing operation right after graduating from college. That’s where I found my passion in growing bedding plants, native trees, shrubs and poinsettias and learned there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty and working hard. I loved the challenges the business presented;  meeting greenhouse heating and cooling requirements in the extreme heat and cold of foothills weather, managing a seasonal staff, adjusting cultural variables to make sure plants were blooming or colored-up to meet the demands of our customers at holiday times. To promote our business, I developed a weekly radio show which aired for one hour every Saturday and afforded me the opportunity to interface with interesting experts in our field.”

Q: The life’s journey that brought you to work for Agra Tech is inspiring. Please share it with us.

JB:  “Life events prompted the closing of our nursery and I became involved in a different line of work. Though I left horticulture for a time, it never left me.  Our local high school here in Angels Camp, CA has a stellar agriculture program which has won several national awards. Every day I passed the school’s empty greenhouse and decided I’d like to become involved in getting the beautiful facility up and running. With a green light from the Ag faculty, I mounted a volunteer effort to raise the funds necessary to get the cooling system operational, installing an energy curtain system and high tech environmental controls which I knew were essential for the success of a new program. I learned the greenhouse had been manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses. Ray Pound, who had originally constructed the structure, was instrumental in providing the technical advice and hands-on support I needed. As more and more people in our community joined to support my efforts, our scope grew. In all, we were able to raise over $30,000 in donated funds to create a self-sustaining program to educate students in how to raise a healthy crop and bring it to market. I enjoyed this volunteer effort so much that I went on to earn my credential as an agriculture educator. Shortly after the greenhouse was up and running, I found myself suddenly very unemployed due to corporate downsizing.  That’s when I phoned Ray Pound at Ag Con again; this time to ask him if he knew of anyone with a job opening. He suggested I phone his brother John who hired me at Agra Tech soon after our first meeting.”

Q: You have a higher purpose to be involved in this industry and I can tell you’re very driven and passionate about your job at Agra Tech. Please explain.

JB: “I strive to make information about agriculture and horticulture accessible to anyone who wants to learn. Education is exciting to me–both when I am sharing information and when I am receiving it.  There are opportunities for me to learn every day and I love being part of this dynamic industry.”

Q: Name several of the more noteworthy projects you’ve been involved in during your employment at ATI?

JB: “Each project we work on is unique and presents site-specific requirements.  There may be nothing more exciting than to stand inside a newly-constructed greenhouse that meets the requirements of our client.   Among the highlights, it’s been my privilege to work on the positive pressure commercial greenhouse for the Lincove Research Facility and on the insect exclusion greenhouse for Willits and Newcomb.”

Q: What is your title at Agra Tech and what is your job description?

JB: “As a sales engineer at Agra Tech, it’s my job to make sure the client has the information necessary to make decisions pertinent to the construction of greenhouses to meet his needs.  It is also important to be available to the customer long after his project has been completed. I enjoy this interface with our customers and make myself readily accessible to them in order to facilitate excellent customer service and satisfaction.”

Q: Tell us what your average work week is like.

JB: “There really is no “average” work week here at Agra Tech. My day is dictated by the needs of our customers whether those needs require me to be in the office or on the road. I travel extensively so that I am able to be of service to my customers.”

Q: How do you think this industry will change within the next 10-20 years?

JB: “In the future, I see Agra Tech at the center of advancements in controlled environmental agriculture.  Insect exclusion structures will continue to be vitally important for the health of plants and the industry at large.  Our company strives to provide the best possible solutions for its customers.”

Q: Tell us some personal things about you, Jim.

JB: “I enjoy my life in the rural community of Murphys, CA, where I have a deep interest in the native vegetation, geology and wildlife that makes the area so naturally beautiful. My wife is the secretary at an elementary school and writes a column about foothills gardening for Sierra Lodestar. My daughter Jill is Director of Sales for an engineering/manufacturing firm and my other daughter Jane is a pediatric nurse who cares for children who have undergone organ transplantation.”

Q: Describe why you like working for a family business like Agra Tech.

JB: “I am passionate about my work at Agra Tech because it satisfies my creativity, allows building relationships with clients and gives me the opportunity to facilitate sales and construction of world-class agricultural structures to the industry’s finest growers. What can I say about working for the Pound family?  They are excellent employers who appreciate their employees and are proud of their business.  They are creative, innovative thinkers striving to create solutions to 21st century needs. It’s extremely exciting to work for such a dynamic company!”

Q:What are your personal and professional goals?

JB:  “I love my job and strive to continue learning from my customers on each project we work together to develop and construct. In the future I look toward continuing to move ATI and agriculture-at-large forward with the advent of new concepts and solutions for our industry. These are exciting times! On a personal level, I continue work in my community to sow “Seeds of Kindness” in our schools. Over the past several years, this effort has grown to include all 22 schools in our county. It’s a remarkable program which affords me the opportunity to work with an inspiring group of educators and students. We help children and adults to focus on the connections we have with one another and how we, as individuals, may influence others in a positive way.”

Jim-25

Jim sampling a tomato grown in an Agra Tech greenhouse

Written by Ed Attanasio